When the body’s immune system starts attacking cells in the small or large intestine, leading to chronic inflammation, pain, diarrhea, bleeding, and other symptoms, it’s called inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD.
One of the reasons omega-3 fatty acid sales took off in recent years was due to research about their potential benefits against IBD, which encompasses Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, especially along with conventional treatment.
Since IBD is a chronic inflammatory disorder and fish oil may reduce inflammation, it was a perfect fit, right? The problem is, many clinical studies have yielded mixed results and have used pretty poor methods. And as better studies have come along, the results haven’t been as impressive. Like vitamin D, omega-3s have been overhyped for almost everything (but at least bone health is critical in IBD, so vitamin D could be helpful).
One of the biggest problems with using dietary supplements for IBD is that newer immune-altering conventional drugs have had such dramatic impacts on treatment for some people that it’s hard for supplements to compete. I think they should be studied more for some of the symptoms of IBD and drug side effects.
Home Remedies For Inflammatory Bowel Disease
I’m watching the research on curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, to see if the anti-inflammatory effects will help IBD; the trials are just getting off the ground. The problem with curcumin is it tends to have a low solubility and the bioavailability is pretty poor, so higher dosages and a better delivery system are needed in future studies.
Tiny preliminary studies have shown promise when tested either against older conventional medicines or with them (called an add on), but these drugs aren’t used as often as the newer biologic therapies.
Probiotics and prebiotics
These have been touted as an add-on treatment for IBD, but the data is not there yet. For example, in a large French study, the popular probiotic yeast Saccharomyces boulardii (1,000 milligrams per day for a year) did not beat a placebo in terms of maintaining remission, but since side effects were similar to a placebo and nonsmokers appeared to have a lower risk of relapse, this probiotic should be studied further in nonsmokers.
And the probiotic VSL#3, which contains eight different bacteria, has several studies with some preliminary positive results for IBD, but they have not been dramatic enough to change conventional treatment.
One of the most common complications of IBD is iron-deficiency anemia. It can occur in up to half of people with IBD, so supplement or even IV therapy could benefit many people.
In the large PROCEED trial, which was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers found that 200 milligrams of elemental iron worked well in anemic IBD patients who were in clinical remission or had mild IBD. More than 60 percent of the participants had a clinically relevant response in their hemoglobin of 2 or more g/dL after only 8 weeks.
Whey protein powder
Carrying extra weight can exacerbate IBD. In a university study from Brazil, whey protein improved lean muscle mass and reduced fat percentage, specifically in Crohn’s patients. When patients lose excess pounds, they often report less fatigue and improved quality of life.
The dosage used in the Brazilian study was 0.4 grams of whey protein concentrate per kilogram of body weight (there are 2.2 pounds per kilogram).